All posts by Jeff Epperly

Computer, I’d like a hand-tossed large pepperoni

Scientists are overcoming the vexing problems of teaching a robot to make and knead pizza dough. And it has profound implications for the workforce.

When the subject of robots taking over jobs comes up in conversation, people usually think of repetitive jobs such as those on an assembly line where placing or welding one part repeatedly means using the exact movements over and over again. Simple stuff for a robot, which is why so many of those jobs are gone forever.

Yet robotics researchers are overcoming hurdles in more complicated tasks.

Think of the last time you watched someone make a pizza  — the kind where they toss and spin and knead the dough into a pan. This looks rather simple, but for humans (and, potentially, a robot) it requires spatial, visual and touch abilities that are quite complicated. Anyone (including a robot can) simply mix the dough. But getting it to the size and thickness required for a pizza requires, among other things, senses of pressure and the ability to judge the length and thickness of a malleable object.

Some researchers at the University of Naples (where they know good pizza) are overcoming these  dough-y obstacles, and their doing so has profound implications for a dizzying array of tasks once thought immune from takeover by artificial intelligence:

“Preparing a pizza involves an extraordinary level of agility and dexterity,” says Siciliano, who directs a robotics research group at the University of Naples Federico II. Stretching a deformable object like a lump of dough requires a precise and gentle touch. It is one of the few things humans can handle, but robots cannot—yet.

Siciliano’s team has been developing a robot nimble enough to whip up a pizza pie, from kneading dough to stretching it out, adding ingredients and sliding it into the oven. RoDyMan (short for Robotic Dynamic Manipulation) is a five-year project supported by a €2.5-million grant from the European Research Council. Like a human chef, RoDyMan must toss the dough into the air to stretch it, following it as it spins and anticipating how it will change shape. The bot will debut in May 2018 at the legendary Naples pizza festival.

RoDyMan has been working this spring toward a milestone: stretching the dough without tearing it. To guide the robot, Siciliano’s team recruited master pizza chef Enzo Coccia to wear a suit of movement-tracking sensors. “We learn [Coccia’s] motions, and we mimic them with RoDyMan,” Siciliano says.

This strategy makes a lot of sense, says robotics researcher Nikolaus Correll of the University of Colorado Boulder. He has modeled flexible motion with rubber springs but was not involved in Siciliano’s research. “Someone who’s learning how to make a pizza would use feedback from their hands,” he adds. “You’d just take the dough and start pulling and try to experience it.”

You can read the rest of the article from Scientific American here.

Giving the mentally ill a green light toward violence

This is the headline over a story in Al-Jazeera:

I don’t want to seem too reductive, since the answers to that question are complicated underneath any seemingly simple answers.

But the short answers as they relate to the Portland stabbing incident seem IMHO to be:

  1. Jeremy Christian, the confessed prime suspect in the Portland incident, is clearly not a well person mentally. That does not excuse what he did. But people like him used to be forced to wander the streets and scream their paranoid nonsense to nobody in particular. Now they have their dangerous views reinforced by InfoWars and Fox News.
  2. The election of Donald Trump has, despite how anyone might feel about why he might or might not have been the best candidate, has unleashed a torrent of uncivil behavior in America. Trump is, whatever his strengths or weaknesses, a man who shows people that being rude and, well, basically immature in public is a strength. If the President can do it, why not the rest of us?

Jerk-y behavior has always been with us. It’s just been given a public platform by the current resident of the White House. That is pretty much unprecedented in our presidents, from whom both sides once expected at least a minimum level of maturity and public restraint. 

Not any longer. 

If you’re mentally ill and you already have InfoWars telling you that “they” (whomever “they”might be in your worldview) are coming to get your guns. give your job to immigrants, and take away your free speech, you’re already primed for uncivil behavior in public.

Now, for the first time, throw in a president for whom saying and doing whatever he wants, regardless of the circumstances, is a virtue and not a flaw, why in the world would anyone think that the Jeremy Christians of the world would not be more likely to act on their crazy impulses?

I’m not the first person to point any of this out. But I do think all of this needs to be repeated and stressed every time one of these incidents happens. 

Words and actions have consequences, especially for those who are already battling mental illness and/or alcoholism and drug abuse.

If those of us who are not mentally ill are screaming at one another in public, why should the mentally ill feel any need to restrain themselves at all?

“Free speech or die”: Portland stabbing suspect yells in court.

 

“Snowpiercer” is the worst movie I’ve ever watched

Tilda Swinton’s considerable acting chops are on display in this movie as perhaps the most annoying bureaucrat ever, but it’s all for naught.

As you can tell from the scene above from the movie “Snowpiercer,” they apparently have cows (and chickens) on the eponymous train to provide a meat locker in a very long perpetual motion vehicle which is the last refuge of humanity after a climate catastrophe. They also have an elaborate aquarium to provide fish and a train car or two made into greenhouses to grow crops. 

The wealthy passengers in the front of the train (think First Class on a plane) want for nothing. While the scum in the back of the train are treated just as poorly as any coach passenger on United Airlines could expect to be treated. Even worse. (But not by much.)

In fact, the back passengers are made to stay in their place in the grime where they are fed nothing but gelatinous protein bars we learn, to the lead character’s horror in one scene, are made from insects.

At first I thought, “OK, the only reason the wealthy passengers are keeping the poor passengers alive is for food.” But the insect scene dispenses with that theory. 

After watching a movie full of nonsense these things stand out in my mind:

  1. Anyone who’s spent any time around a livestock operation knows that cows consume tons of food. Cows are also big. Where are they kept in this train? Where are they slaughtered? 
  2. The genius who dreamed up this fantastical train apparently is not genius enough to know that all the things you can do on the train you could do more easily and more efficiently in a stationary building or buildings.
  3. The movie’s lead actor, Chris Evans, should fire the agent who did not see through this awful script. Evans manages to wring some sympathy and heroism from his part, but the entire thing falls to pieces almost immediately.
  4. People all over the world eat insects without any harm coming to them. In fact, some scientists argue that cultivating insect protein on a commercial scale may be a great way to solve food crises around the globe.  That and, you know, stopping wars.
  5. Insects have to eat. What they are fed is never made clear in this film.
  6. Poor Ed Harris, who plays the chief villain. I always thought of him as a distinguished actor. Then again, he did appear in “David Cassidy: Man Undercover” and “CHiPs” so his career has basically returned to where it once was, apparently.
  7. The movie has a 7.0 out of 10 rating on IMDB, proving that site is not always on target with its rating system.
  8. If a movie is in the bargain bin at the store where you shop, it is likely there for reasons you should not ignore.
Even the star power of Chris Evans can’t save this one.

Welcome to Wisconsin!

You can exercise with anything you find around the house, garage — even the television news studio. ANYTHING! As these good ole boys will show you.

Now and then the local morning news programs have a producer who books a segment with local citizens who prove to be unintentionally charming and amusing.

Now get off that couch and break out those cinder blocks and beer kegs and get yo ass movin’!

I love this so much. I really do.

Wait for the tennis racquets, which made me think these guys might have been putting everyone on.

The first movie that ever scared the crap out of me

Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock’s classic “The Birds” was released on this date in 1963 — for children of the era starting many love affairs with horror movies.

I was three years old and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I recall never looking at flocks of birds the same way for a very long time.

It’s held up remarkably well over the years, gaining a 7.7 rating on IMDB and a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Of course, those are the scores of movie lovers who can still appreciate what a work of art it was for the genre at that time.

If you are used to blood and gore in scary movies, it might not do much for you. General horror audiences are a bit more demanding today than a movie in which the blood is mostly measured in droplets.

For me, watching it again is worth it if for nothing else to see how Alfred Hitchcock dressed Tippi Hedren. What a dish she was.

Note also the hints of a nascent environmentalist movement, largely unheard of at the time, in the dialogue. 

Crazy that we have not progressed as far was one might expect on that issue and, in fact, are now going backwards thanks to the current resident of the White House.

Trailer below.

Waiting for April the giraffe

And waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Gilbert Gottfried reads “50 Shades of Grey”

This is not new. But man, oh man, how did I miss this? Crazy!

He’s perfect for this reading and the looks on the women’s faces in this bit are perfect.

I forget which comic it was who said he’d like to have Gottfried’s voice on the turn directions on his GPS.

So would I.

Ariana Gandhi

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. Also when you bust that ho Britney’s ass in a Twitter war.”

I have finally accepted the truth

Other doggy parents will feel joy I will never experience.

It is inescapable now. Otto the rescue pitbull does not like bacon.

I was making breakfast for dinner tonight, and fried up some bacon. When it was done I took a piece out to let it cool on a paper towel. 

I gave it to Otto and he, as he always does with any particularly messy food, carried it into the living room to eat on the new rug. I thought nothing of it.

Then I walked into the living room a few minutes later and there it was. Sitting there, untouched on the carpet. Mocking me.

The uneaten bacon.

I tried everything. I desperately offered it to him again as he was sleeping on the sofa. He turned up his nose then looked away.

I pulled out the big guns. I acted like I was eating it, making “nom, nom, nom” sounds and saying “Mmmm, DELICIOUS!” like I do right before he rejects yet another expensive  doggy treat and then eats some poop.

Nothing. He just looked at me, yawned and then licked his rope toy.

A rope toy? Over bacon?

You turn it over in your mind. Where did I go wrong?

There were signs I ignored. He would not take bacon-flavored treats. He did not like Pupperoni.

I should have known. But I was in denial.

Where did I go wrong? Did I love him too much? Did I love him not enough?

What will the other parents at the dog park say?

“His dog does not like bacon. Also he doesn’t use biodegradable waste disposal bags.”

The words ring in my ears.

I don’t want to talk about it.

I will post a vague reference on Facebook to something being wrong and hope nobody takes that extra step of asking, “What happened? Are you OK?”

The world seems off-kilter right now.

This explains a lot

Trump tweeted a pic from his latest physical.  ECHO!! (Echo, echo, echo, echo)